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BMJ calls for inquiry into 'fraudulent' MMR research

MPs have been called to launch a parliamentary inquiry into research linking the MMR vaccine with autism and bowel disease - research the British Medical Journal (BMJ) calls an "elaborate fraud".

The call comes following revelations, the BMJ argues, that removes "any remaining credibility" in research conducted on the MMR vaccine by Andrew Wakefield, formally of the University College London (UCL).

Published in February 1998, Wakefield's research paper claimed 8 of 12 children with brain problems seen at the Royal Free hospital developed autism within days of MMR, and that 11 of the 12 had colitis.  

Upon studying unpublished raw data, experts have told the BMJ they found "no evidence" of the existence of a new inflammatory bowel disease associated with MMR - as Wakefield concludes in his paper - and "almost entirely normal findings were misreported in the Lancet paper."

In a letter sent to Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology, BMJ editor-in-chief Dr Fiona Godlee has implored parliament to intervene if UCL "does not immediately convene an independent inquiry into the Wakefield affair." 

"Institutional misconduct is too important to be left to the institutions themselves," she said.

"After the effort and time it has taken to crack the secrets of the MMR scare, and the enormous harm it has caused to public health, it would compound the scandal not to heed the warnings from this catastrophic example of wrongdoing."

Dr Godlee believes a continuing failure to get to the bottom of the vaccine scandal raises "serious questions" about the prevailing culture of our academic institutions and attitudes to the integrity of their output. 

"This is not a call to debate whether MMR causes autism," said Dr Godlee.

"Science has asked that question and answered it. We need to know what happened in this inglorious chapter in medicine. Who did what, and why?"

In May 2010, Wakefield, formerly a researcher at the Royal Free medical school in Hampstead, north London, was struck off the medical register over a number of charges, including dishonesty in research published in the Lancet in 1998.

BMJ Open